Interview with a VISTA

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Release Date: 
Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Grace Ortez took a short break from studying for the LSAT a cold November Friday to talk to me about how she found AmeriCorps VISTA, why she values national service, and how her view of her hometown has expanded through service. Grace grew up in New York City and now serves in NYC as part of the Defending Communities in Service at the New York Office of the Appellate Defender to expand community partnerships. Throughout our conversation, her passion for her city was apparent in every answer. She currently lives in New Jersey and commutes into Manhattan and never once complained about taking multiple buses and trains to get to her site - her love for the city makes it all worth it. Below is a shortened version of conversation.

Anna: How did you find out about VISTA?

Grace: I vaguely knew about the concept of AmeriCorps, but not specifically about VISTA. While searching for community engagement opportunities in the legal field, I stumbled across it and it fit perfectly into what I wanted to do.

Anna: What drew you to national service?

Grace: I wanted to be able to integrate my personal experiences growing up in the city to an organizational setting and most of all give back to home community.

Anna: How has this year impacted you so far?

Grace: Wow, it’s had such an impact. I’ve more closely seen the sacrifice and acts of service from public defenders which has deepened my commitment to follow their footsteps. I’ve engaged with the community and seen grassroots level change and also what needs to change. It’s given me hope for the world to see the level of care for extremely underprivileged people.

Anna: As you’re serving in your home community, what have you learned or what has surprised you about your home through service?

Grace: I have been so happily surprised by the community advocates and how much they get done. I’ve met many advocates who are returning citizens and emerged as civil leaders in NYC. They’re taking power back and creating innovative programs for survivors. It’s inspiring and not often talked about.

Anna: What have you learned that you will take forward with you after this year of service?

Grace: I grasp what is needed in legal work and advocacy now. I don’t know where exactly I want to be, but I see where the need is. I am learning about holistic defense and how participation in holistic defense requires both a lawyer with community advocates.

Anna: What do you think your greatest strength is?

Grace: I think it’s empathy. Empathy is needed to advocate for people who feel like they can’t use their power. It gives you the ability to see the world differently.